Learning in Community

We consider the community-learning processes by which we operate to be one of the most important things we share with others. We have articulated five tenets those processes follow, and find that reminding ourselves and others of them during particularly difficult work helps us hold the center of what we’re doing.  These tenets are central to Indigenous systems of learning and have been used for millenia. Within the last 40 years, they have been independently rediscovered by the education research community, where they are now considered characteristic of “cutting edge” learning situations.

Understanding flows from many sourcesWe strive to be open to, and encourage the fostering of, dream, imagination, inspiration, analysis, spiritual insight, art, physical experience, story, critical thinking, and other ways of knowing in all our research and education activities. Some of these types of knowledge come from animals, plants, and the Land itself, so opportunities to interact with these sources of wisdom are an important part of all our work.

Each person’s voice has value.  Tapestry coined the term sophiarchy for this principle because it was so hard to explain to non-Indigenous visitors and collaborators. Despite the presence of this view in the philosophies that undergird democratic government, we have learned that the people who work with us tend to give more attention and credence to the voices of people with certain credentials, of the male gender, and of Western culture. We find that such a built-in heirarchy of power silences important and even essential voices, thereby diminishing the power of the collaborative process and of its possible outcome. We use sophiarchy in our internal governance, meetings, programs, and events.

Diversity produces power.  Creative strides in our work depend on the collaborative efforts of people from different cultures, races, disciplines, and ways of life. Creative strides in understanding, in a learning situation such as a program or event, likewise depend on the collaborative efforts of people working together. This is a typically Indigenous way of creating community-based knowledge that empowers individuals by helping them develop internal, rather than external, authority.

Process is more important than outcome.  The result of prioritizing process is that, paradoxically, the outcome is ultimately better and more creative than it would have been otherwise. We have found that people who come to a meeting typically want to be provided with a clear-cut goal for the outcome, toward which they expect to work with single-minded intensity. We find that a focus on the processes — of understanding the situation we want to address, for example — helps the group generate extraordinarily creative ideas, some of which solve problems we only identify during the course of the meeting.

Structure must be generated by the phenomenon of the process itself, not dictated to the process.  This means that spontanous needs for quiet reflection, a hike, or ritual are honored as powerful elements of the overall process — just as are spontanous analyses of data or in-depth discussions.  Our staff, team members, and the people who work with us and attend our events are diverse. So the processes we have established for our operations shift and flow as required by circumstances. But they shift and flow within the embrace of these tenets that describe the reality in which we operate.